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US Retailers Getting Desperate


U.S. retailers are slashing prices in a desperate bid to make money, while new data on industrial production is sparking concerns about one of Asia's leading economies.

Stores in the United States opened early Friday, offering discounts of as much as 70 percent in hopes of salvaging a disappointing holiday shopping season.

U.S. stores depend on sales in the weeks leading up to the Christmas holiday Thursday, December 25 to make a profit for the year. But the research firm ShopperTrak says customer visits to retail stores before Christmas dropped 24 percent compared to last year. Another survey by MasterCard's Spending Pulse finds retail sales plunged by as much as four percent.

There are also signs sliding demand is taking a toll on Japan's export-driven economy.

Japan says industrial output plunged more than eight percent in November from the previous month, the largest drop on record, prompting some economists to warn the industrial production is "falling off a cliff."

Japan's ministry of economy, trade and industry says decreases in production of transportation equipment, general machinery and electronics parts contributed to the overall decline. And there are concerns demand is unlikely to pick up soon.

Economists in the U.S., the world's largest economy, warn the global recession is forcing Americans to limit spending to products they really need. As a result, a industry trade group, the International Council of Shopping Centers, says retailers could experience the worst holiday shopping season in 40 years.

Comscore, a company that tracks Internet sales, says consumers also appear to be spending less money online.

Despite an economic meltdown that has battered the global economy, Palestinian leaders say the Christmas holiday is giving one town a significant boost.

In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, where Christians believe Jesus was born, officials say hotels were booked and that more than one million tourists will have visited the town by the end of the year - the best showing in nearly a decade.

Meanwhile, Russia's ruble hit a three-year low against the dollar, after officials devalued the currency for the 11th time in the past two months.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.